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West Coast Cultural Gems: Exploring Victoria’s Greek Heritage Museum

Traditional dancers perform during the annual Greek Fest celebrations hosted by the Greek Heritage/Project Museum in Victoria. Photo courtesy of the Greek Heritage/Project & Museum

In the heart of Victoria, B.C., lies a cultural gem that brings to life the rich heritage of the region’s Greek community.

The Greek Heritage Project/Museum, located in Royal Oak, about a 15-minute drive from downtown Victoria, is a testament of the ongoing legacy of the Greek people on the West Coast.

The museum’s association was founded in 1974 as a non-profit initiative by the local Greek community. Initially, without a permanent location, the community used the nearby Christ Church Cathedral for its services and activities, including traditional dancing classes, grade school education and social gatherings.

During the 1970s and ’80s, the Greek community, significantly larger then, came together for an annual multicultural festival in Victoria, showcasing the rich Greek culture and history from its immigrants.

The Greek Heritage/Project Museum’s association was founded in 1974 as a non-profit initiative by the local Greek community. Photo courtesy of the Greek Heritage/Project & Museum

In the 1960s and ’70s, Vancouver Island’s Greek community had established more than two dozen Greek restaurants in the area. However, notes museum director Michael Ikonomou, the kids did not continue this culinary legacy, leading to a decline in the family-run businesses. Later, the 2008 economic downturn brought a new wave of immigrants from places like Toronto and Vancouver, injecting “new blood in the community.”

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An evolving collection

The museum’s collection contains numerous artifacts, many donated by families of those who have passed away. The museum holds everyday objects and memories from people from the community. Among these is a large accounting book, dating back from the early 20th century, detailing the passage of 150 people through Victoria.

Among the artifacts are items brought by early Greek settlers – rare tapestries, brooms, cookware – all bringing past lives to life.

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Not currently on display is a collection of hundreds of letters and notes, however Ikonomou reflects on how touching it is to read some of the conversations: “It’s interesting how much our interests have shifted, how much more emotional and connected people were in their correspondence.”

Other treasures at the museum include table covers, handmade by young girls that were often part of their dowry when getting married. Because of their value, many of these cloths are in pristine condition.

Another favourite display includes old recipes, yellowed with time, and bearing handwritten notes from long ago. “It’s beautiful to see how food evolves across generations and changes between regions,” Ikonomou reflects.

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Find the Greek Heritate/Project Museum in the community of Royal Oak, about a 15-minute drive from downtown Victoria. Photo courtesy of the Greek Heritage/Project & Museum.

These narratives are not just artifacts; they’re living testimonies of the community’s past and ongoing lives. The museum’s collection is continually evolving with people’s donations and continued research – their Facebook page often features new discoveries or finds from donations.

The museum is currently creating a genealogy database to record the heritage of Greek immigrants to Vancouver Island. Flip boards at the entrance of the museum hold posters of each Greek family, so visitors can add their notes and stories from their families to the boards.

“Many families come and go and don’t leave anything behind,” says Ikonomou, who wants to learn about all these histories and the lives of those who’ve passed through the area.

Plans to offer virtual components promise to broaden the museum’s reach, along with popular community celebrations like GreekFest – a major annual event that draws thousands and serves as a living extension of the museum’s mission.

“It’s almost like living in Greece for seven days, the shouting, the loudness, the dancing and the food,” Ikonomou says with a laugh.

Why visit the Greek Heritage Museum?

The Greek Heritage Project/Museum’s role extends beyond preservation; it’s a space for recording and sharing the stories of those who have made the West Coast their home. From genealogical records tracing back to the 1400s to stories of Greek explorers like Juan de Fuca, the museum is a repository of an interconnected heritage.

Visiting is a chance to understand how the threads of family, tradition and history are woven into immigrants’ new realities on the West Coast.

For those interested in delving deeper into the Greek heritage of the West Coast, the Greek Heritage Museum awaits.

If you go:

  • Find the Greek Heritage Project/Museum at 4648 Elk Lake Dr.
  • Admission is free and the museum welcomes visitors on Wednesdays from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. and from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. druing Greek Fest (held in late August)
  • Tours are also possible by calling 250-419-3151 or emailing the museum before your visit.

This article is part of the West Coast Traveller’s series on Cultural Gems on the West Coast. Stay tuned for more explorations into the region’s cultural landmarks.

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